SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A cancer survivor who won more than $1 million from Equifax for improperly handling his identity theft report can keep the full award, a federal judge ruled.
U.S. District Judge Susan Illston rejected the credit reporting agency’s motions for a new trial or to set aside so-called “excessive” damages.
Eric Drew, who was twice referred to hospice care by hospitals that said they could not treat his cancer, had his identity stolen in 2003 by a phlebotomist working at the cancer center where he had undergone treatment.
Drew discovered that multiple fraudulent credit accounts had been opened in his name with thousands of dollars in balances.
“Plaintiff testified that, while he was away from home being treated for near fatal cancer, he singlehandedly caught the individual who had stolen his identity even though the police and hospital personnel had not believed him or wanted to help him,” Illston wrote.
Fearing that his life was in danger, Drew called newspapers, the FBI, police and his hometown mayor in Los Gatos, Calif.
When a local television station picked up his story, the identity thief was caught and convicted of criminal violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
Over the next two years, however, Equifax and a number of other credit reporting agencies and banks allegedly thwarted Drew’s attempts to repair his credit and reinvestigate his claims of identity theft.
After a nine-day trial, a jury awarded Drew $6,326.69 in economic damages, $315,000 in noneconomic compensatory damages and $700,000 in punitive damages.
Among Equifax’s requests on appeal, the company argued to reduce “excessive” compensatory and punitive damages to $200,000 and $50,000, respectively.
“Here, defendant leaves the court to speculate where its $200,000 figure comes from,” Illston wrote. “It does not explain why $315,000 is shocking to the conscience or unsupported by the evidence while $200,000 is a proper number.”
Illston refused to grant remittance, finding that Drew had “presented significant evidence of emotional distress that he suffered as a result of his unique circumstances.”
“The evidence strongly supports a finding that the harm plaintiff suffered was not the result of mere accident,” the ruling states.
Against all odds, Drew identified the man who stole his identity, beat cancer and launched an unprecedented criminal HIPAA prosecution, “but he couldn’t navigate the system that defendant had set up to correct his credit report,” Illston wrote.